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Washington Nationals: Catcher Chatter - Wilson Ramos And Jesus Flores Behind The Plate In D.C.

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• Random Quote of the Day: "Somebody came up with this idea, maybe you’ll save [Stephen Strasburg’s] innings if you don’t have him no.1 on this club. How am I going to do that? You guys would run me out of town, wouldn’t you?" - Davey Johnson on last day of the season.

• Jesus And Wilson: "I think each situation is independent of each other," D.C. GM Mike Rizzo said when he was asked in a late-October interview about how he measured the early success Nats' catcher Jesus Flores was having hitting in the Liga Venezuela Beisbol Profesional as the Navegantes del Magallanes' catcher. "Flores is a guy that we've seen what he can do in the majors leagues," the Nationals' GM explained, "So, to me Flores' job and his objective for next year is to go down to the winter league and get as many as bats as he can, catch as many innings as he can, just to knock the rust off and to get him back to playing to his accustomed pre-injury level."

Davey Johnson was asked at the end of the 2011 season if Flores needed to play this winter as he continued to work his way back to full strength after the shoulder injuries which cost him two years just as his career was getting started. The Nats' manager said, "... if you asked [Flores], I think he'd say he's fully-recovered. And he may want to go out and play. It wouldn't be something that I'd say he has to do, [but] probably like to see him do a little of it, but that's entirely up to him." Last year, before Flores worked his way back to the majors following two years of rehabbing from shoulder and elbow surgeries, the 26-year-old backstop put up a .322/.365/.460 line with six doubles and two home runs in 25 games and 87 at bats in the VWL.

In 30 games and 91 plate appearances with the Nationals in 2011, Flores had a .209/.253/.314 line with six doubles and one home run. In 56 games and 218 plate appearances at Triple-A Syracuse, the 26-year-old Flores, (who turned 27 in October), hit just .234 with a .252 OBP, .378 SLG, 15 doubles and 5 HR's. Flores spent more time in the majors than expected when Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez missed time with injuries. When all three were on the roster at the end of the season, Flores expressed some frustration, writing on Twitter (JesusFloresN26), " "No playing time  #Frustration."

Catching for the Navegantes del Magallanes this winter, Flores had a .330/.368/.514 line with 16 doubles and eight home runs in 56 games and 218 VWL AB's. With Pudge Rodriguez unlikely to return to the nation's capital, Flores figures to be the backup to Wilson Ramos this season, as the former Minnesota Twins' prospect firmly established himself as the Nats' no.1 backstop last season, pushing Pudge Rodriguez to a backup role early last summer.

Before the July 2010 trade which brought Ramos to the Nationals' organization, the then-22-year-old backstop had a .241/.280/.345 slash at Triple-A in the Twins' system after a .317/.339/.496 season at Rookie ball and Double-A in Minnesota's organization in 2009. In the Nats' system, a rejuventated Ramos posted a .316/.341/.494 at Triple-A Syracuse, and he showed enough at and behind the plate in a late-season look with the Nationals that he headed into the 2011 campaign as the presumptive catcher of the future in the nation's capital.

Ramos didn't disappoint. The 23-year-old backstop hit 22 doubles and 15 HR's in his rookie campaign, finishing his first full season in the majors with a .267/.334/.445 line in 113 games and 435 plate appearances. Ramos' +3.1 fWAR was the Nats' third-highest total and the second-highest fWAR value amongst rookies in the major leagues, behind only Danny Espinosa and Michael Morse on the Nats' roster and Espinosa only among rookies league-wide. Asked what Ramos needed to work on this Winter, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson told reporters late this season that he and Ramos had discussed working on the catcher's approach at the plate.

"I talked to him a little bit about his swing," Johnson said, "I thought he [has] just a little tendency to sometimes be a little too much upper cut. But he's worked on it a little bit here and I like his progress. I like where he's at, he's getting right to where he needs to be, fine-tuning it might [not] be a bad idea."

Wilson Ramos caught for the Tigres de Araguas in Venezuela in 2010, hitting 17 doubles and nine home runs while posting a .322/.390/.567 slash in 47 games and 180 VWL AB's. After the strong 2011 season Ramos had, his mananger in Washington said, "I'm sure if I'm the team in Venezuela, I'd want [Ramos] to play, but that's going to be entirely up to what he thinks he needs to stay in shape over the winter and be ready for next spring." Ramos was preparing to play for the Tigres when the well-documented kidnapping ordeal derailed the now-24-year-old catcher's plans for a winter of working on his swing.

Ramos was determined to play in his home country this winter in spite of what was clearly a harrowing ordeal. When the backstop visited the nation's capital to meet with the team, the team's doctors and the D.C. press corps after his rescue, Ramos told reporters (including Washington Times' writer Amanda Comak who quoted Rafael Rojas quoting Ramos in an article entitled, "Nationals’ Wilson Ramos tells of kidnapping ordeal",) that "'As soon as I feel all right, I’m going to start playing... as a thank you to Venezuela for the support.'" After hitting .322 in 47 games and 180 at bats in 2010, Ramos finished the regular season with the Tigres de Aragua with a .218/.277/.276 slash in 25 games and 87 AB's over which he hit two doubles and a HR.

Though the Nationals haven't spoken about what they've seen from Ramos this winter, regardless of his struggles in Venezuela, the 24-year-old catcher figures prominently in the Nats' plans for 2012. So does Flores, with Pudge Rodriguez unlikely to return for a third season in D.C. The Nats' GM was apparently confident enough with the catchers in the Nationals' organization that he traded the top catching prospect (Derek Norris) to Oakland in the trade that brought Gio Gonzalez to the nation's capital.

"If we get the Jesus Flores pre-injury, that's the guy we want," Rizzo told reporters earlier this winter, but his winter league numbers were not too important to the general manager, who explained, "If it was a younger player, you have to read a little bit more into that, into the winter league [itself] if you're making an assessment, but Flores is a guy we want just to get reps, be squatting behind the plate, catch innings, kind of take the brunt of the innings that he missed over the almost two years that he didn't play."

Whether or not they're reading anything into Ramos' numbers is unclear, but if both are healthy and 100% heading into Spring Training the Nationals will have a solid catching corps in 2012...that is if Flores doesn't get dealt at some point this winter...